Unfortunately for me, my beloved New York Jets are projected to have still another miserable year. That forces me to remain focused into October, on my playoff bound New York Mets. Lordy-Lou, the Mets making the playoffs or even being relevent, has become a fantasy. Hell, it's even tough to say with a straight face. That means, with the Jets and Mets out of the picture, I’m left to root (far less passionately) for my auxiliary football teams, the Redskins and 49ers. Or more likely, be entertained by the NFL for the sake of entertainment.
On the other hand, the Feast of San Gennaro, in Manhattan’s Little Italy, is a highly recommended New York City tradition. To mark this eleven-day block party’s, 87th anniversary, this year’s big event will be held from September 12th through the 22nd.
To varying degees and in their own way, other U.S. cities observe this holiday. So San Gennaro's religious origins are sometines overlooked in contemporary society. Therefore its general significance has evolved to a celebration of Italian pride…more specifically, an appreciation for the faith and spirit of the countless immigrants who settled in Little Italy, during the early 1900s.
|MULBERRY STREET (circa 1900). I MARVEL HOW HOLLYWOOD USED THE SAN GENNARO FEAST AND THE ACTUAL STREET PERFECTLY, IN CAPTURING THE ABOVE VIBE IN, "THE GODFATHER II."|
Remember to bring your appetite because the San Gennaro festivities include dozens of existing Italian restaurants, cafés and specialty shops. Plus temporary food stands cram Mulberry Street with ethnic fast-foods from around the world. Additionally, there is free entertainment, rides, souvenirs, religious ceremonies and parades.
There is one person I know who shares the same appreciation for the NFL and the San Gennaro Feast…and that’s my friend, crime novelist Charlie Stella, (a.k.a. CHARLIEOPERA). This pass week, Charlie and I had a long overdue meeting which included him accompanying me to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, a walk on the Atlantic City boardwalk and lunch with MRS.OPERA, at the Tropicana Casino.
I don’t get out much, so this four-hour laugh-a-thon was exactly the medicine I needed to combat my doldrums. Charlie's face lit-up when I mentioned San Gennaro. He said, "I know a guy who knows a guy on Grand Street who makes the best suffrite." I said, "What's suffrite?" He said, "It tastes great but the secret ingredients are so disgusting that if I told you the recipe, I WOULDN'T have to kill you...you'd gladly do it yourself." When we switched to football, a small part of our conversation included commiserating each other on our inept teams, (his Buffalo Bills...my Jets).
If Charlie didn’t piss me off twice, it would have been the perfect outing. First, for some strange reason, he now insists in calling me Stevie. I spent a good deal of my adolescence trying to wean my mother off calling me that. After wasting tons of money on beaucoup hours of therapy, I learned the hard way that regardless how she referred to me, I’ll always be mama’s little boy.
So I confronted Charlie and insisted he stop. As the lovely and talented Mrs. Opera might say of Charlie, "My big galoot is a funny, generous, sensitive, caring person...with sociopath tendencies." So I shouldn't have been surprised when he apologized by smirking, “I won’t call you that anymore…Stevie.”
His second dagger in my side was him doubting my memory. Nothing riles “Instant Recall” Edelblum more than being challenged on a point that his is certain of. Of course, even as a storehouse of useless information, I don’t claim to be perfect, (in last week’s Disney blog, RBOY made several noteworthy corrections). But Charlie's long and short-term memory might have been affected by millions of head hits he endured while playing college football at Minot State (North Dakota) Plus he was already swilling a third Dos Equis beer during our chat. Our brewing argument was delayed when he belched, "I only drink this crap because I like the 'most interesting man in the world' commercials."
|WHEN CHARLIE RATTLED OFF SOME CATCHPHRASES FROM THE COMMERCIAL SERIES, I ADDED, "HE'S SO INTERESTING, HIS MOTHER HAS A TATTOO THAT SAYS, 'SON.'"|
Charlie responded by rolling down his sleeve and showing me his work in progress. It was a tattoo of the Buffalo Bills' Mount Rushmore. I'm not a body art fan but this detailed modification of the landmark was truly artistic...except it was unfinished. Like the familiar images of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt, I saw Jack Kemp, Thurman Thomas and Jim Kelly. But the last face was left blank. I said, "I guess you're reserving that space for O. J." Charlie said, "HELL NO! The Butcher of Brentwood will never defile my bicep. I'm just waiting for some new guy to take us (the Bills) to the promised land." I joked, "It might be a long wait." Charlie just gave me the malocchio, (Italian evil, dirty look).
Our conversation (difference of opinion) went back on point. The debated topic dates back forty years when Charlie and I were both Canarsie Chiefs on our high school football team, (he was a year behind me). When Charlie reminded me that he missed his entire junior season (my senior year) due to an injury, an "Instant Recall Edelblum" red flag went up. I said, “That means, we were NEVER on the field at the same time.” I won’t bore you with the details of our screaming profanity-filled argument that ensued. All you need to know is, I’m right and he’s wrong!
Down through the years, I thought Charlie might’ve been on my JV squad as a freshman. But he assures me that as a ninth grader, he was still attending the, "OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL MENSTRUAL CRAMPS MIDDLE SCHOOL." So, in the spirit of camaraderie, now that I know he wasn't there, I'll share with him (and you) a deep dark secret from my JV (sophomore) season, guaranteed to be remembered, even by Charlie, for a long time.
My deep dark secret dates back to early September 1970. Our school’s first ever (barely funded) JV football team (without buses) piled into the cars of parents and were taken to the Bronx. Our premiere action versus a live opponent, was a scrimmage (practice game) against the Governors, of DeWitt Clinton High School.
During the week before our debut, wise guys from the varsity had filled our (my) naive head with propaganda. The nonsense that stuck in my brain centered on the fact that DeWitt Clinton was all-boys. We all knew that parochial schools weren’t co-ed but I was told that the fact that Clinton had no female students and was public...that meant it was a "reform school." As soon as I was duped into believing that it was a reform school, I drew my own conclusion that all the students were juvenile delinquents and future criminals.
To intensify the fearful butterflies in my stomach, the car I was driven-up in, also had MIKE85 and NICK9. When I whispered that we were playing a bunch of depraved, drug-ravaged desperadoes with nothing in life to lose, they nodded in agreement. Hell, I was immature and inexperienced so the mind games took an immediate toll on me. Maybe the 1974 movie, “THE LONGEST YARD,” was inspired by someone else going through similar trepidation that I was going through.
|SET IN A PRISON, THE ORIGINAL "LONGEST YARD" WAS A COMEDY. IT FEATURED A FOOTBALL GAME WITH THE SYMPATHETIC INMATES GOING AGAINST THE PRISON GUARD BADDIES.THE 2005 RE-MAKE WAS FAR LESS FUNNY.|
My first eerie glimpse of DeWitt Clinton High School, is as clear in my mind today as it was forty-three years ago. Against the beautiful blue sky and harmless puffy clouds of that Saturday morning, the old and ugly, red brick school, like a penitentiary, sat on an isolated perch, atop a barren hill.
In a parking lot, along side the buses that brought the varsity, I got out of the cramped back seat of a 1960 Ford Comet and joined some teammates. Most of them had experience in organized football so my Baptism under fire was no big deal to them. But in the short time before the others arrived, a tingly
I marveled at the sharp playing field (complete with an electronic scoreboard) and the perceived extravagance of a separate practice facility, (we had no home field and practiced in an open expanse, in Seaview Park...complete with broken glass, rusty beer cans and assorted litter than included the occasional spent condom...they were called prophylactics back then).
When I turned away from Clinton's sports complex, I noticed, the ancient-looking, gothic, vaulted entrance that led into the bowels of the school’s basement.
When all twenty-two JV players were accounted for, the coach gave us an uninspiring rah-rah pep-talk and led us to the ominous, gothic slit in the building. My (our) eyes had trouble adjusting from the brightness into the dark. Confusedly, while toting our equipment-filled duffle-bags over our shoulders, we entered the foreign territory of a long, narrow, stone-faced corridor. Immediately, the loud blare of a record player bombarded our ears with segments from classic Knute Rockne, pre-game, locker room motivational speeches. The ultimate psych-out, I'm getting goose bumps typing these cob-web filled memories as I recall their impact on my previously mentioned jitters.
Rockne’s gifted words felt like they were intended just to churn and burn my innards. “We’ll beat’em on the ground, we’ll beat’em in the air, we’ll annihilate them all over the field…” Then when my eyes got used to the dimly lit dungeon-like hallway, I saw three, well-spaced, forty watt bulbs in the ceiling. When I looked down, I noticed, in the tight quarters, the entire Clinton team, seated in full uniform, lining each side of the passage with their out-stretched legs interlocked with the player across from them.
My heart was racing as I carefully tip-toed behind a teammate. Rockne's voice continued to fire-up our opposition who were now rhythmically slapping their thigh pads in unison. It was intimidating to think that one false step on a stray ankle could ignite World War Three. I felt a gurgling rumble in my belly when I envisioned, in that confined space, a bloody, if not deadly riot featuring our enemy swinging their helmets against our defenseless heads.
The massacre never happened but my internal damage was worsening. At the end of this long, dangerous tunnel, the door to the visitor lockers was the most welcome sight I ever saw in my fifteen-year life. Inside brought quiet, open spaces. My instincts caused me to scan the lay of the land. In seconds, beyond the sea of battleship gray cubbies, I spied a glimpse of salvation, a tiled floor; coincidentally in Canarsie Chief light blue and navy colors. A sudden torturous, sharp impulse of pain electrified my mid-section. I was doubled-over as I scurried into a room full of unoccupied toilet stalls. I may not have been a fast runner but nobody was ever quicker. Luckily for me, every second I shaved off my time paid-off because simultaneously as I sat at ground-zero, a Mount Vesuvius-like volcano exploded from the most remote abyss inside me.
I’m so glad I side-stepped life's ultimate embarrassment, because I’m sure if my situation turned out different, I would have been immortalized in Canarsie football lore…for all the wrong reasons.
By the way, we kicked the crap out of Clinton that day…the JV included. I guess their coach retired the Knute Rockne psyche job because it’s a really stupid thing if you always lose. So each of the next two years, we went up there again and beat the tar out of them both times. Additionally, my expectation about Clinton came true. In 2010, it had the distinction of having, New York City's, "Most Heavily Armed Student Body." This assertion as well awful test grades almost caused this historic institution (since 1897) to close.
So because the statute of limitations on "almost soiling myself" has run-out decades ago, I'm willing to share my near-crappy event with CHARLIEOPERA and the world. Unfortunately for me, Charlie will bust my stones over this...and far worse, this'll be the one thing that he NEVER forgets. Plus, I'll be reminding him forever that he CAN'T call me Stevie!